Commentary Magazine


Topic: location

Debating the Middle East Debacle

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

Politico devotes part of its Arena discussion to Ben Smith’s compelling report on Obama’s Middle East blunders. What is interesting is that, aside from the executive director of the notoriously anti-Israel group the Jerusalem Fund, no one from this ideologically diverse bunch differs with the premise of the article (Obama has made things much worse) or cheers the president’s latest desperation move.

From David Aaron Miller: “[I]n the face of this difficult situation, the administration came out loud, hard and fast — focused largely on a settlements freeze it had no chance of producing or sustaining. Twenty months in, the president — a wartime leader with a Nobel Peace Prize (only the second in American history) finds himself with no freeze, no negotiations, no agreement and no process to get there.”

Bob Zelnick adds: “It takes some effort to mess things up as quickly and completely as the Obama team. But if you let settlements — a final status issue — put in a position to queer the whole deal, if it takes 20 fighter planes to make sure Netanyahu shows up for class, and if you have no coherent plan to build on the diplomatic path plowed by George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the chances are you will not get the parties to move much beyond their opening positions and that those at the table will begin to view your opinions as having little more than nuisance value.”

James Carafano reminds us: “Figure out the right thing to do, do the opposite … that pretty much defines the Obama Middle East strategy. The White House fell for the most obvious trap — that negotiating peace between Israel and Palestine is the ‘easy button’ and that a settlement will make that whole part of the world blossom into a land of milk and honey. The White House should have started at the other end — standing tall as a firm friend of Israel and focusing like a laser on the key problem Iran. Trumping Iran and backing Israel marginalizes Hamas and makes peace possible, not the other way round.”

The Obami remain impervious, however, to the near-unanimous criticism of their approach. It is among the Obama team’s most curious undertakings. As faulty as many of Obama’s foreign policy gambits may be, there are few (perhaps human rights is another) that have been so universally panned as his Middle East maneuvering. There is no pivot and no recognition that he is sowing additional discord and reducing America’s stature. Why do we suppose he is so immune to advice? I suspect it is because this particular policy is near and dear to the president’s heart and nearly entirely the product of his own ego and mistaken diagnosis of the region’s problems. He is tragically and completely lacking in an appreciation for the political realities, and apparently not an aide in his entire administration is willing or able to dissuade him. At most, the mission now is to try to spare him a personal humiliation.

You wonder what Dennis Ross, peace-processor extraordinaire, is telling himself. Things would be worse without him? Hardly seems possible. If you just keep processing, the peace “momentum” will build? It’s hard to fathom. But history’s judgment will be especially severe, both for him and for others who should know better. A heck of a way to end a career in Middle East diplomacy, no?

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Liberal Lamentations and the Book of Job

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

Newsweek editor Evan Thomas reached what might have been the apotheosis of hero worship of Barack Obama when he stated on MSNBC in June 2009 that “I mean in a way Obama’s standing above the country, above — above the world, he’s sort of God.” Some 18 months later, Thomas’s affirmation of Obama as a political messiah seems more comic than anything else. But for those liberals of theological bent, explanations for the president’s repudiation by the voters in a historic midterm thumping requires more than an analysis of the unpopularity of ObamaCare. Into this breach steps Thomas’s former Newsweek colleague Jon Meacham.

In Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Meacham writes in an essay whose supposed subject was a new translation and commentary on The Wisdom Books of the Bible by Robert Alter that the best explanation for the repudiation of Obama can be found in the Book of Job. To Meacham, Obama’s trials are as much a mystery as those of Job. Like Job, Obama was once favored by God only to be subjected to afflictions that have no discernible purpose other than to test his faith. While Meacham admits that incoming House Speaker John Boehner is not quite the same thing as a case of boils, he makes plain that the defeat of the Democrats is pretty much the moral equivalent of such torments. Snidely noting that God’s rejection of Job’s questioning of His decisions is “how Dick Cheney’s vision of unfettered executive power might sound if rendered in ancient Hebrew verse,” Meacham gives voice to a liberal sense of injustice at their recent losses.

As Jennifer noted, that this sort of nonsense is what passes for erudition at the once mighty Book Review is quite a commentary on the state of mind of our liberal elites and one that requires no translation by Robert Alter. But while Meacham’s ranting can be dismissed as a failed attempt at clever exegesis, it does speak to a lack of understanding on the part of the author (and, no doubt, many of his readers) as to the difference between an election and an act of God. The former is a judgment on the part of the voters about both policies and personalities. It can be disputed as a mistake, but it is not an inexplicable event. The latter is simply something that happens without apparent rhyme or reason. To a believer, the essence of the Almighty and His acts are ineffable, and we must imply accept them without explanation, since none will be forthcoming.

Barack Obama’s defeat in the midterms, like his victory two years before, was not an act of God. It was an act of democracy. By contrast, if we are looking for evidence of an event whose coming was as arbitrary as Job’s boils, we could do no better than to ponder the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the presidency of George W. Bush. While the government’s failures in the aftermath of that natural disaster were legion, the fact remains that it was George W. Bush’s bad luck that he happened to be president when New Orleans was hit with a once-in-a-century hurricane that would come to define his presidency. Bush might well wonder why this storm came during his time in office rather than that of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. A storm of Katrina’s size would have knocked down the levees even if the president had been a Democrat, though it is doubtful that the media would have blamed him for the ensuing casualties and the incompetence of local authorities the way they did Bush. Bush could not be blamed for asking God why, but as a man of faith, he probably understands that there is no answer.

Job teaches us that bad things can happen to good people and that we shouldn’t expect a Divine explanation when such injustices occur. But, contrary to Meacham, however good some of us may think Barack Obama is, explaining his troubles at the ballot box does not require an act of faith.

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It’s Getting Painful to Watch

Those who were supportive of Obama’s latest stunt to keep the “peace process” going argued that at least Israel would get some very expensive fighter aircraft for a mere 90-day extension. Well, not so fast, according to this report:

On Wednesday, Ynet reported of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the F-35 fighter jets which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed will be included in the freeze deal. Sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that progress has been made on the issue and stated that the aircraft will arrive in Israel in 2015. Nevertheless, it appears there still is a misunderstanding regarding the payment for the jets.

In his meetings with the seven ministers Saturday night and the Likud ministers, Netanyahu stressed that the 20 fighter jets will be given as a gift from the US and that Israel will not have to pay for them using funds from the security aid budget.

The parties are still working out the details of the matter, as it appears the US had a different take on the understandings reached between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York. It also appears there were misunderstandings regarding the time in which the aircraft will be provided, as Israel expected to receive them in the coming years while the US planned on supplying them after a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

Got that? The planes aren’t free and are conditioned on a peace deal that is unlikely to be made by 2015 — or 2025, for that matter. Now this seems like a pretty fundamental point, and yet the parties aren’t clear on the contours of the deal? Yes, the more we learn, the more discombobulated the Obama team seems.

Oh, and the promise not to include East Jerusalem in the deal is also sort of up in the air: “The paper is slated to include a US pledge not to demand an additional moratorium at the end of the second freeze. The issue of Jerusalem is not mentioned, however, sources close to the negotiations noted that the document suggests that Jerusalem is not included in the freeze.” So East Jerusalem is simply ignored? “Suggests” suggests that this, too, is fuzzy.

I’m sure professional negotiators must be appalled by all this. Every aspect of the undertaking — the investment of so much presidential prestige in a long-shot proposition, the notion that the PA can make a deal, the obsession with settlements, the frantic last-minute bribe, the lack of clarity, the preposterous assumption that we’ll get a deal in 90 days — reveals a lack of sophistication and understanding of the region. It has taken on the feel of an international-relations exam: how many errors can you find in this undertaking?

And by the way, the parties broke off whatever minimal talks they were having nearly two months ago. At some point, as the U.S.’s haggling with Bibi’s government continues (Well, when we said “give” we didn’t mean for free!), perhaps they will declare a “recess” and all go home to work out the details at the staff level. And then this entire, shabby episode can be left for the history books — and the graduate students — we hope never to be repeated.

Those who were supportive of Obama’s latest stunt to keep the “peace process” going argued that at least Israel would get some very expensive fighter aircraft for a mere 90-day extension. Well, not so fast, according to this report:

On Wednesday, Ynet reported of the disagreement between Israel and the US over the F-35 fighter jets which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed will be included in the freeze deal. Sources familiar with the matter said Thursday that progress has been made on the issue and stated that the aircraft will arrive in Israel in 2015. Nevertheless, it appears there still is a misunderstanding regarding the payment for the jets.

In his meetings with the seven ministers Saturday night and the Likud ministers, Netanyahu stressed that the 20 fighter jets will be given as a gift from the US and that Israel will not have to pay for them using funds from the security aid budget.

The parties are still working out the details of the matter, as it appears the US had a different take on the understandings reached between Clinton and Netanyahu in New York. It also appears there were misunderstandings regarding the time in which the aircraft will be provided, as Israel expected to receive them in the coming years while the US planned on supplying them after a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians is achieved.

Got that? The planes aren’t free and are conditioned on a peace deal that is unlikely to be made by 2015 — or 2025, for that matter. Now this seems like a pretty fundamental point, and yet the parties aren’t clear on the contours of the deal? Yes, the more we learn, the more discombobulated the Obama team seems.

Oh, and the promise not to include East Jerusalem in the deal is also sort of up in the air: “The paper is slated to include a US pledge not to demand an additional moratorium at the end of the second freeze. The issue of Jerusalem is not mentioned, however, sources close to the negotiations noted that the document suggests that Jerusalem is not included in the freeze.” So East Jerusalem is simply ignored? “Suggests” suggests that this, too, is fuzzy.

I’m sure professional negotiators must be appalled by all this. Every aspect of the undertaking — the investment of so much presidential prestige in a long-shot proposition, the notion that the PA can make a deal, the obsession with settlements, the frantic last-minute bribe, the lack of clarity, the preposterous assumption that we’ll get a deal in 90 days — reveals a lack of sophistication and understanding of the region. It has taken on the feel of an international-relations exam: how many errors can you find in this undertaking?

And by the way, the parties broke off whatever minimal talks they were having nearly two months ago. At some point, as the U.S.’s haggling with Bibi’s government continues (Well, when we said “give” we didn’t mean for free!), perhaps they will declare a “recess” and all go home to work out the details at the staff level. And then this entire, shabby episode can be left for the history books — and the graduate students — we hope never to be repeated.

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Why the Silly Deal Is a Bad Deal

Some genuine friends of Israel have shrugged their shoulders over the latest foolish attempt by the Obami to lure the parties back to the non-peace talks. OK, they concede, it won’t work and is absurd (another 90 days won’t matter), but what is the harm? Besides, Israel gets those planes (but what if after 90 days the talks end?). Elliott Abrams succinctly explains in a Voice of America interview why the deal is not just ludicrous but also dangerous:

“They have been negotiating for a very long time and they have not been able to overcome the differences on some critical issues like Jerusalem or security arrangements,” said the former foreign policy advisor to U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “It may be too optimistic to expect the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an agreement by 2011 on all issues which separate them when they have not yet started negotiations.” …

“It is the linkage.” he says. “The Israeli agreement to extend their construction freeze in the West Bank by 90 days is now linked to a squadron of jets and to U.S. vetoes in the U.N. Security Council.”

Abrams believes neither of these linkages should be connected with the issue of a West Bank construction freeze by the Israelis.  He said the U.S. should be making decisions in the Security Council on the basis of principle.

“If it is a bad resolution we should veto it,” the Middle East scholar says. “Similarly the U.S. should give Israel what it needs, but it should not be linked to a 90 day extension of the freeze.”

For the same reason that it is unseemly for the U.S. to make the offer, it is unwise for the Israelis to play along.

And really, isn’t it time to pull the plug on this destructive and distracting sideshow? If the U.S. and our allies spent half the time and effort on constructing a viable plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear as they do trying to badger Israel into making concessions to Palestinian “leaders” who can’t and won’t make a deal, we’d all be a lot safer, and Obama’s reputation abroad might rebound. Pro-Israel groups and lawmakers would do well to start making that point.

Some genuine friends of Israel have shrugged their shoulders over the latest foolish attempt by the Obami to lure the parties back to the non-peace talks. OK, they concede, it won’t work and is absurd (another 90 days won’t matter), but what is the harm? Besides, Israel gets those planes (but what if after 90 days the talks end?). Elliott Abrams succinctly explains in a Voice of America interview why the deal is not just ludicrous but also dangerous:

“They have been negotiating for a very long time and they have not been able to overcome the differences on some critical issues like Jerusalem or security arrangements,” said the former foreign policy advisor to U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. “It may be too optimistic to expect the Israelis and Palestinians to come to an agreement by 2011 on all issues which separate them when they have not yet started negotiations.” …

“It is the linkage.” he says. “The Israeli agreement to extend their construction freeze in the West Bank by 90 days is now linked to a squadron of jets and to U.S. vetoes in the U.N. Security Council.”

Abrams believes neither of these linkages should be connected with the issue of a West Bank construction freeze by the Israelis.  He said the U.S. should be making decisions in the Security Council on the basis of principle.

“If it is a bad resolution we should veto it,” the Middle East scholar says. “Similarly the U.S. should give Israel what it needs, but it should not be linked to a 90 day extension of the freeze.”

For the same reason that it is unseemly for the U.S. to make the offer, it is unwise for the Israelis to play along.

And really, isn’t it time to pull the plug on this destructive and distracting sideshow? If the U.S. and our allies spent half the time and effort on constructing a viable plan to prevent Iran from going nuclear as they do trying to badger Israel into making concessions to Palestinian “leaders” who can’t and won’t make a deal, we’d all be a lot safer, and Obama’s reputation abroad might rebound. Pro-Israel groups and lawmakers would do well to start making that point.

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New Reports Show Another Freeze Won’t Buy Israel Quiet with U.S.

When the emerging U.S.-Israel deal on another three-month settlement freeze was first reported, I could understand the argument (ably made by  Jonathan) that despite the freeze’s many negative consequences, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should acquiesce. But if subsequent reports are true, another extension would be disastrous. If Israel is going to spend the next two years fighting with Washington over construction with or without the deal, it can so do more effectively without another freeze.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that contrary to previous reports, Barack Obama isn’t promising not to seek further moratoriums: his proposed letter to Netanyahu would merely say that “progress over the next three months would render another freeze unnecessary.”

Yet the chances of progress during these months rendering “another freeze unnecessary” are nonexistent. Nothing less than a signed-and-sealed deal on borders would let Israel build in “its” parts of the West Bank without Palestinian objections, and even Washington doesn’t believe that’s achievable in just three months. Thus, when the three months end, Palestinians will once again object to Israeli construction on “their” land — and Obama will once again back them by demanding another freeze.

Then came today’s report — again contradicting earlier ones — that the U.S. won’t really exempt East Jerusalem from the moratorium. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that even if Israel extends the freeze, “we will continue to press for quiet throughout East Jerusalem during the 90 days.”

The official added that President Barack Obama had committed in an oral message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last April that the U.S. expects both sides to refrain from “actions that would seriously undermine trust,” including in East Jerusalem, and would respond with “steps, actions, or adjustments in policy” to any such provocative actions as long as negotiations are underway.

The U.S. administration has defined “actions that would seriously undermine trust” as including major housing announcements, demolitions, or evictions in East Jerusalem.

“This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it”, said the US official.

In other words, even if Israel extends the freeze, it won’t get quiet: it will spend the next three months fighting with Obama over Jerusalem, followed by another major fight over the West Bank when the three months end.

And if so, better to have the fight now, when Netanyahu can still reasonably argue that the original 10-month freeze was a one-time gesture that Abbas wasted by refusing to negotiate, and that the onus is therefore now on Abbas, not him, to make the next gesture.

But the minute Netanyahu agrees to another freeze, he accepts two dangerous principles: that the freeze wasn’t an exceptional one-time gesture but instead a tolerable long-term policy, and that it’s never Abbas who needs to make gestures; it’s always and only Israel’s turn. And that leaves him no justification for not extending the freeze again in another three months.

For two years of quiet with Washington, another three-month freeze might be worth it. But if what Israel will really get is just two more years of continued fighting, the only sensible answer is “no.”

When the emerging U.S.-Israel deal on another three-month settlement freeze was first reported, I could understand the argument (ably made by  Jonathan) that despite the freeze’s many negative consequences, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should acquiesce. But if subsequent reports are true, another extension would be disastrous. If Israel is going to spend the next two years fighting with Washington over construction with or without the deal, it can so do more effectively without another freeze.

Yesterday, Haaretz reported that contrary to previous reports, Barack Obama isn’t promising not to seek further moratoriums: his proposed letter to Netanyahu would merely say that “progress over the next three months would render another freeze unnecessary.”

Yet the chances of progress during these months rendering “another freeze unnecessary” are nonexistent. Nothing less than a signed-and-sealed deal on borders would let Israel build in “its” parts of the West Bank without Palestinian objections, and even Washington doesn’t believe that’s achievable in just three months. Thus, when the three months end, Palestinians will once again object to Israeli construction on “their” land — and Obama will once again back them by demanding another freeze.

Then came today’s report — again contradicting earlier ones — that the U.S. won’t really exempt East Jerusalem from the moratorium. A “senior U.S. official” told Haaretz that even if Israel extends the freeze, “we will continue to press for quiet throughout East Jerusalem during the 90 days.”

The official added that President Barack Obama had committed in an oral message to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last April that the U.S. expects both sides to refrain from “actions that would seriously undermine trust,” including in East Jerusalem, and would respond with “steps, actions, or adjustments in policy” to any such provocative actions as long as negotiations are underway.

The U.S. administration has defined “actions that would seriously undermine trust” as including major housing announcements, demolitions, or evictions in East Jerusalem.

“This policy will continue if the negotiations resume under a 90-day moratorium and the Israelis know it”, said the US official.

In other words, even if Israel extends the freeze, it won’t get quiet: it will spend the next three months fighting with Obama over Jerusalem, followed by another major fight over the West Bank when the three months end.

And if so, better to have the fight now, when Netanyahu can still reasonably argue that the original 10-month freeze was a one-time gesture that Abbas wasted by refusing to negotiate, and that the onus is therefore now on Abbas, not him, to make the next gesture.

But the minute Netanyahu agrees to another freeze, he accepts two dangerous principles: that the freeze wasn’t an exceptional one-time gesture but instead a tolerable long-term policy, and that it’s never Abbas who needs to make gestures; it’s always and only Israel’s turn. And that leaves him no justification for not extending the freeze again in another three months.

For two years of quiet with Washington, another three-month freeze might be worth it. But if what Israel will really get is just two more years of continued fighting, the only sensible answer is “no.”

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Desperation Time

As I’ve noted over the past few days, the Obama team’s last-ditch effort to restart the non-peace talks has taken on a cringe-inducing quality. As the Washington Post editors remark, the smorgasbord of “incentives” appears to almost everyone, other than the Obami themselves, to be nothing more than “desperate improvisation.”

Let’s count the ways in which that is so. For starters, it’s not clear Bibi’s cabinet would accept it. Second, the Arab League and its Palestinian clients have already said there’s no deal without a freeze on building in East Jerusalem (a demand that even the Obama team has finally learned is a non-starter). Third, a 10-month settlement freeze didn’t do the trick, so what is the next 90-day freeze supposed to bring? And finally, as the rest of the players in the Middle East look on, they learn a lesson: the Obama team will pay a very high price to avoid humiliating the president. The mullahs, the Syrians, the Turks, and all the rest will learn from this as they calculate what they too might extract from the U.S.

And let’s not forget how we got here: Obama and his “smart” diplomats elevated this issue, forcing both Bibi and the PA into a no-win bargaining position — hence, the high price to extract himself from the collapse of an initiative that he made a top priority. That, too, was a mistake, for it has let other issues fester, unnerved the Arab states who wonder when we’re going to devote ourselves to de-fanging the Iranian regime, and damaged our relationship with the Jewish state with no appreciable gain in our standing with Israel’s neighbors.

As I’ve noted over the past few days, the Obama team’s last-ditch effort to restart the non-peace talks has taken on a cringe-inducing quality. As the Washington Post editors remark, the smorgasbord of “incentives” appears to almost everyone, other than the Obami themselves, to be nothing more than “desperate improvisation.”

Let’s count the ways in which that is so. For starters, it’s not clear Bibi’s cabinet would accept it. Second, the Arab League and its Palestinian clients have already said there’s no deal without a freeze on building in East Jerusalem (a demand that even the Obama team has finally learned is a non-starter). Third, a 10-month settlement freeze didn’t do the trick, so what is the next 90-day freeze supposed to bring? And finally, as the rest of the players in the Middle East look on, they learn a lesson: the Obama team will pay a very high price to avoid humiliating the president. The mullahs, the Syrians, the Turks, and all the rest will learn from this as they calculate what they too might extract from the U.S.

And let’s not forget how we got here: Obama and his “smart” diplomats elevated this issue, forcing both Bibi and the PA into a no-win bargaining position — hence, the high price to extract himself from the collapse of an initiative that he made a top priority. That, too, was a mistake, for it has let other issues fester, unnerved the Arab states who wonder when we’re going to devote ourselves to de-fanging the Iranian regime, and damaged our relationship with the Jewish state with no appreciable gain in our standing with Israel’s neighbors.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

Get the feeling that Michael Steele has no friends these days? “Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins resigned from his post Tuesday morning with a stinging indictment of Chairman Michael Steele’s two-year tenure at the committee. In a four-page letter to Steele and the RNC’s executive committee obtained by POLITICO, Collins lays out inside details, previously only whispered, about the disorganization that plagues the party. He asserts that the RNC’s financial shortcomings limited GOP gains this year and reveals that the committee is deeply in debt entering the 2012 presidential election cycle.”

Get ready for a really, really tough punishment for Charles Rangel. “A House panel on Tuesday found Representative Charles B. Rangel guilty of 11 counts of ethical violations, ruling that his failure to pay taxes, improper solicitation of fund-raising donations and failure to accurately report his personal income had brought dishonor on the House. … While the committee has the power to recommend expulsion, that is highly unlikely. Ethics experts and committee members have said that Mr. Rangel, 80, is more likely to face a letter of reprimand or a formal censure.” OK, maybe just a hand slap.

Get government to downsize? Puleeze. David Malpass explains what’s so bad about the Fed’s $600B bond-purchase scheme. “By buying longer term assets, whose value will decline when interest rates rise, the Fed is engineering a fundamental change in the nature of U.S. monetary policy. This has undercut global confidence in the Fed, as reflected in high gold prices, dollar weakness, and large-scale investments abroad by U.S. companies and wealthy individuals. … Both fiscal stimulus and Fed asset purchases raise the same giant red flag. As the government expands its role in the economy, business confidence and hiring decline in the knowledge that there’s no free lunch.”

The Obama team simply doesn’t get it: once again, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates throws cold water on the use of military force for preventing Iran from going nuclear. They sure have gone out of their way to give the mullahs assurance that they can defy us without risking a military strike.

Bibi says he needs to get the U.S. bribes promises in writing. “Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israeli approval of a 90-day settlement freeze was contingent upon a written US pledge regarding a package of incentives that insured his country’s security and national interests, diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post.” Now, there’s a “rock-solid” relationship for you.

House Dems get their anger out. “Disgruntled Democrats finally had a chance to confront Speaker Nancy Pelosi face-to-face for the first time during a raucous closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, as defeated Rep. Allen Boyd called her ‘the face of our defeat.’ ‘We need new leadership,’ Boyd, a Florida Democrat, told his colleagues, according to sources in the room. … Pelosi, her top elected lieutenants and her aides have been scrambling to defuse discontent following the election. They are actively working to prevent a delay in the leadership vote and to deny support to a slate of proposals by moderate ‘Blue Dog’ Democrats that would weaken her hand in the minority by making top appointive positions subject to caucus election.”

Investors get jittery: “Global stock markets’ steady march higher was interrupted by concerns about growth in China, debt in Europe and the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion plan to stimulate the U.S. economy. Tuesday’s world-wide selling was touched off by a 4% stock drop in Shanghai. It spread to Europe, where markets fell more than 2%, and then to the U.S., pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1.6%, its worst point and percentage decline since August 11.”

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Ending “the Occupation” Is Not a Palestinian Priority

In yesterday’s post, I explained why a settlement freeze decreases Palestinian motivation to make a deal by ensuring that foot-dragging entails no price. But conventional wisdom on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would counter that this argument has an obvious flaw. Surely, its advocates would retort, Palestinians already have the strongest of all possible motivations to sign a deal quickly — their burning desire to end the hated occupation?

In fact, no. As a new poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre reveals, the occupation is nowhere near the top of ordinary Palestinians’ priority list — and neither are the settlements or Jerusalem.

The number-one concern for ordinary Palestinians is the economy, cited by a plurality of 22.4 percent. In second place is Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, at 18 percent. The hated occupation was relegated to third place, with 15.5 percent, followed by “the siege on Gaza” (9.4 percent). The settlements and Jerusalem trailed far behind, at 6.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

This means that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no incentive to make any kind of deal because ordinary Palestinians don’t care enough about ending “the occupation” to make them willing to swallow the concessions a deal will entail.

A 2001 poll found that a whopping 80 percent of Palestinians believe “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people” cannot be met as long as Israel exists, regardless of its borders. An agreement would thus require them to accept that their “rights and needs” will not be perfectly met. It would spell the end of long-cherished dreams like “returning” the refugees and their descendants to Israel, or otherwise turning back the clock.

But giving up a cherished dream is hard. Most people will do it only in exchange for a major improvement in reality. And if settlements and the occupation are not actually oppressive enough to rate as burning issues for ordinary Palestinians, a deal cannot produce the massive improvement in reality that would compensate for abandoning their dreams.

Moreover, a people that views Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as more important than ending the occupation is clearly not interested in a deal; given Hamas’s commitment to “armed struggle” and Israel’s ultimate eradication, reconciliation can only take place on terms that would preclude any agreement.

Abbas already appears to have made his choice. Even as he has adamantly refused to negotiate with Israel for the last two years, his Fatah party has been engaged in ongoing talks with Hamas. And at a meeting with Fatah leaders in Ramallah on Monday, he told them reconciliation with Hamas was “at the top of the PA’s agenda.”

Under intense pressure from Washington, he may nevertheless agree to go through the motions of talking with Israel. But anyone who expects a deal to emerge from these talks is deluding himself.

In yesterday’s post, I explained why a settlement freeze decreases Palestinian motivation to make a deal by ensuring that foot-dragging entails no price. But conventional wisdom on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would counter that this argument has an obvious flaw. Surely, its advocates would retort, Palestinians already have the strongest of all possible motivations to sign a deal quickly — their burning desire to end the hated occupation?

In fact, no. As a new poll by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre reveals, the occupation is nowhere near the top of ordinary Palestinians’ priority list — and neither are the settlements or Jerusalem.

The number-one concern for ordinary Palestinians is the economy, cited by a plurality of 22.4 percent. In second place is Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, at 18 percent. The hated occupation was relegated to third place, with 15.5 percent, followed by “the siege on Gaza” (9.4 percent). The settlements and Jerusalem trailed far behind, at 6.6 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively.

This means that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has no incentive to make any kind of deal because ordinary Palestinians don’t care enough about ending “the occupation” to make them willing to swallow the concessions a deal will entail.

A 2001 poll found that a whopping 80 percent of Palestinians believe “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people” cannot be met as long as Israel exists, regardless of its borders. An agreement would thus require them to accept that their “rights and needs” will not be perfectly met. It would spell the end of long-cherished dreams like “returning” the refugees and their descendants to Israel, or otherwise turning back the clock.

But giving up a cherished dream is hard. Most people will do it only in exchange for a major improvement in reality. And if settlements and the occupation are not actually oppressive enough to rate as burning issues for ordinary Palestinians, a deal cannot produce the massive improvement in reality that would compensate for abandoning their dreams.

Moreover, a people that views Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as more important than ending the occupation is clearly not interested in a deal; given Hamas’s commitment to “armed struggle” and Israel’s ultimate eradication, reconciliation can only take place on terms that would preclude any agreement.

Abbas already appears to have made his choice. Even as he has adamantly refused to negotiate with Israel for the last two years, his Fatah party has been engaged in ongoing talks with Hamas. And at a meeting with Fatah leaders in Ramallah on Monday, he told them reconciliation with Hamas was “at the top of the PA’s agenda.”

Under intense pressure from Washington, he may nevertheless agree to go through the motions of talking with Israel. But anyone who expects a deal to emerge from these talks is deluding himself.

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Why Israel Shouldn’t Do Foolish Things

The Palestinians’ response to the Obami-inspired 90-day settlement moratorium offer simply reinforces the foolishness of the endeavor:

An Arab League official said Monday that a possible three-month-long temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would be unlikely to be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for Mideast peace talks.

“If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side,” said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

Of course it’s not “enough.” It’s never enough. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ own refusal to recognize the Jewish state (oh yes, that) goes unremarked upon. And no, Israel will get little or zero credit for knuckling under to another incarnation of the same fundamentally flawed approach, which has not only set back the cause of peace but also has diminished whatever semblance of credibility Obama has been able to cling to.

But does Israel still get the planes? No, seriously. If the “hardware” was the reward for Bibi putting his government at risk and reducing his own credibility (when Israel says “no,” does the government really mean no?), it seems only fair that Israel should get to keep the bribe planes. And what about the promised veto of anti-Israel resolutions? Bibi has now, it seems, established the precedent that the support of  the U.S. in international bodies is a bargaining chip between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

Those cheering or excusing the latest effort to “rescue” the peace talks make a fundamental error. The U.S. is acting in foolish and desperate ways. Israel cannot afford to be either, or to convey to the Jewish state’s enemies, especially the Iranian regime, that it will be cowed by the U.S.’s pressure tactics. Israel must, even if the U.S. does not, convey that its oft-repeated positions are more than words. Call it linkage — but if Israel isn’t serious about a futile settlement extension, is it serious about more weighty matters?

Bibi, in essence, blinked –something for which he is certainly deserving of criticism. Is it hard navigating the waters with an American president as hostile as this one to the Jewish state? Sure, but indulging foolishness is not a recipe designed to help improve the security of the U.S. or Israel.

The Palestinians’ response to the Obami-inspired 90-day settlement moratorium offer simply reinforces the foolishness of the endeavor:

An Arab League official said Monday that a possible three-month-long temporary freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank would be unlikely to be enough to prompt Palestinian and Arab support for Mideast peace talks.

“If the news is true about there being a settlement freeze that excludes Jerusalem and that takes the criticism off Israel, I cannot imagine that would be acceptable to the Palestinian side or the Arab side,” said Hesham Youssef, an official with the office of the secretary general of the Arab League.

Of course it’s not “enough.” It’s never enough. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ own refusal to recognize the Jewish state (oh yes, that) goes unremarked upon. And no, Israel will get little or zero credit for knuckling under to another incarnation of the same fundamentally flawed approach, which has not only set back the cause of peace but also has diminished whatever semblance of credibility Obama has been able to cling to.

But does Israel still get the planes? No, seriously. If the “hardware” was the reward for Bibi putting his government at risk and reducing his own credibility (when Israel says “no,” does the government really mean no?), it seems only fair that Israel should get to keep the bribe planes. And what about the promised veto of anti-Israel resolutions? Bibi has now, it seems, established the precedent that the support of  the U.S. in international bodies is a bargaining chip between the U.S. and the Jewish state.

Those cheering or excusing the latest effort to “rescue” the peace talks make a fundamental error. The U.S. is acting in foolish and desperate ways. Israel cannot afford to be either, or to convey to the Jewish state’s enemies, especially the Iranian regime, that it will be cowed by the U.S.’s pressure tactics. Israel must, even if the U.S. does not, convey that its oft-repeated positions are more than words. Call it linkage — but if Israel isn’t serious about a futile settlement extension, is it serious about more weighty matters?

Bibi, in essence, blinked –something for which he is certainly deserving of criticism. Is it hard navigating the waters with an American president as hostile as this one to the Jewish state? Sure, but indulging foolishness is not a recipe designed to help improve the security of the U.S. or Israel.

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Netanyahu Chooses the Lesser of Two Evils

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

The debate over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to renew a settlement-building freeze in the West Bank has been rightly characterized by my colleagues Jennifer Rubin, Evelyn Gordon, and J.E. Dyer as a measure that will not advance the basic interests of the United States or Israel and that will undermine the slim chances for a genuine peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Others are also correct when they point out that this decision, like virtually every other concession made by Israel since the start of the Oslo process in 1993, strengthens the incorrect perception that the Palestinians are the only lawful owners of all of the West Bank.

But as much as Oslo has been completely discredited by the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace, Netanyahu cannot afford to act as if the desire of the United States to pursue another round of peace talks is irrelevant. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may be among the last people on Planet Earth to fail to understand that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has neither the will nor the interest in signing a peace accord, no matter where Israel’s borders are drawn. Their decision — to hound Netanyahu to renew the freeze for 90 days even after a 10-month freeze was ignored by the Palestinians — is an absurd policy that mires the administration in a dead-end process that can win them no laurels and few thanks from a Muslim world that Obama is still clearly interested in appeasing.

Yet would it have been prudent of Netanyahu to simply say no indefinitely? Another three months of a freeze won’t do more to undermine Israel’s rights or security than the previous 17 years of fruitless negotiations have done, whereas another spat with the White House that could have been blamed on Israel would worsen the country’s position.

It is true, as Evelyn Gordon has written, that Israel will get no credit from an international community that is hostile to the existence of the Jewish state. But it is also true that actions that highlight the true obstacle to peace — Palestinian irredentism — are essential to maintaining the bipartisan, across-the-board support for Israel here in the United States. As much as Netanyahu would have been justified in bluntly and publicly telling Obama and Clinton that their demand for another freeze was wrong, that would have meant putting his country in the position to be accused of saying “no” to peace. Such a charge would be a lie, but it would have strengthened the hand of those in the Obama administration who want to distance the United States from Israel, and it would also have been exactly what Abbas wanted because it would allow him to avoid being the one to say “no” to more talks or ultimately to an agreement. In the game of chicken being played by Israel and the Palestinians, all the settlement freeze has done is to put more pressure on Abbas to jump out of the talks, illustrating once again that peace is something that will only be achieved by a change in the political culture of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu must live with a situation where his only ally-state is led by a man who is still uncomfortable with Israel and unwilling to abandon his hubristic belief that he can succeed in making peace where all who have gone before him have failed. Obama has another two years left in his current term and 12 months or so before the requirements of his quest for re-election may serve to deter him from further putting the screws to Israel. During this period, Netanyahu may face a decision about whether Israel will strike at Iran’s nuclear project. Another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza may also be forced upon the Jewish state during this time frame.

There are no guarantees that this concession, like all those made by Israel before this, will strengthen Israel’s hand in gaining support for its right of self-defense, but doing so will surely make it easier for Israel to make its case before the American people, especially at a time when the White House must be considered essentially unfriendly to Jerusalem. Under the circumstances, Netanyahu cannot be blamed for deciding that giving in on the freeze — when it is obvious that the Palestinians will not take advantage of the opening — is the lesser of two evils.

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A Bad Deal All Around

It’s hard to understand how either the U.S. or Israel gets much out of a proposed 90- day settlement moratorium, which Bibi is prepared to present to his cabinet. Yes, Obama is pleased that this shows Bibi is “serious,” but that is yet another bit of Obama condescension. Has Israel not shown that repeatedly — by entering into peace talks that inevitably increase killings of Jews and by multiple proposals to give the Palestinians their own state? It is true that, yes, Israel gets a bribe promise of 20 F-35s.

But both Israel and the U.S. are the worse for this deal. Bibi is merely perpetuating the myth that the negotiations are about settlements; after promising Israel would not extend the settlement freeze, he has now damaged his own credibility. Moreover, as a savvy Israel hand points out to me, “What surprises me is how little he gets out of this: much of what is promised is promised when peace comes, not now.” While it’s nice to get free F-35s, the Israelis could have purchased those additional planes without giving in on the settlement issue. And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

But, most important, the extension is at best a meaningless postponment of the inevitable — a refusal by the Palestinians to enter into and enforce a peace deal that would mark recognition of the Jewish state and cessation of Palestinian terrorism. Does anyone really imagine that another 90 days — or 90 weeks for that matter — will make any difference? The only result is a negative one for Israel, the U.S., and the West. Israel’s credibility is damaged, the non-peace talks (that continue to promote friction between the U.S. and Israel) are extended with virtually no chance of success, the world obsesses a little longer over the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and, meanwhile, those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran.

And will Israel get “credit” for this? Puleez. The” international community” and the left will holler that the freeze does not include East Jerusalem. Surely by now Bibi should know that capitulation never pays dividends for the Jewish state.

It’s hard to understand how either the U.S. or Israel gets much out of a proposed 90- day settlement moratorium, which Bibi is prepared to present to his cabinet. Yes, Obama is pleased that this shows Bibi is “serious,” but that is yet another bit of Obama condescension. Has Israel not shown that repeatedly — by entering into peace talks that inevitably increase killings of Jews and by multiple proposals to give the Palestinians their own state? It is true that, yes, Israel gets a bribe promise of 20 F-35s.

But both Israel and the U.S. are the worse for this deal. Bibi is merely perpetuating the myth that the negotiations are about settlements; after promising Israel would not extend the settlement freeze, he has now damaged his own credibility. Moreover, as a savvy Israel hand points out to me, “What surprises me is how little he gets out of this: much of what is promised is promised when peace comes, not now.” While it’s nice to get free F-35s, the Israelis could have purchased those additional planes without giving in on the settlement issue. And as for the promise to veto UN resolutions attacking Israel or declaring a Palestinian state, why should Israel have to give anything to Obama for simply adhering to past U.S. policy? My Israel guru remarks, “This shows the Obama mentality that we veto as a difficult favor for Israel, rather than out of principle.”

But, most important, the extension is at best a meaningless postponment of the inevitable — a refusal by the Palestinians to enter into and enforce a peace deal that would mark recognition of the Jewish state and cessation of Palestinian terrorism. Does anyone really imagine that another 90 days — or 90 weeks for that matter — will make any difference? The only result is a negative one for Israel, the U.S., and the West. Israel’s credibility is damaged, the non-peace talks (that continue to promote friction between the U.S. and Israel) are extended with virtually no chance of success, the world obsesses a little longer over the Palestinian-Israel conflict, and, meanwhile, those centrifuges keep spinning in Iran.

And will Israel get “credit” for this? Puleez. The” international community” and the left will holler that the freeze does not include East Jerusalem. Surely by now Bibi should know that capitulation never pays dividends for the Jewish state.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.'”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.'” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

“Soul-searching” at the White House? Not so much. “‘There isn’t going to be a reset button. That’s not their style,’ said a Democratic strategist who works with the White House on several issues. ‘They don’t like pivots, and they also believe they’re right.'”

Nancy Pelosi is the right leader to show the country that the Dems “get it”? Not so much, according to Heath Shuler: “Shuler believes that his party didn’t get the message on Election Day when voters kicked Democrats out of majority control of the House if his caucus keeps Pelosi at the top of their leadership team. ‘I hope that with so many members that we need to go in a different direction, that we have to be able to recruit or get back those members of Congress that lost, and I just don’t see that path happening if she’s at the top of the Democrats,’ Shuler said.” He says he’ll run against Pelosi, but maybe he’s in the wrong party.

Would Russ Feingold be a formidable primary challenger to Barack Obama? Not so much, says Mara Liasson: “There’d have to be a real anti-war movement in the country for Russ Feingold to try to capture and lead. But there’s not even that.”

Have the Obami learned anything about their Middle East policy failures? Not so much. The U.S. is goading Bibi to offer a 90-day freeze (why should this freeze produce a different result than the last one?), but the PA is already grousing. “Earlier on Sunday, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed strong reservations about the U.S. proposal, because it would only apply to the West Bank and not east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.”

Is Obama still the media’s darling? Not so much. “The Democratic president left for Asia just three days after his party suffered big defeats in mid-term elections at the hands of voters worried over the sputtering U.S. economy and unemployment stuck near 10 percent for more than a year. The trip was intended to counteract that frustration with a stress on opening new markets for American goods and improving the jobs picture, so the timing was especially tough. ‘The coverage has been quite negative. The dominant narrative is an embattled president representing a weakened nation,’ said William Galston, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington. ‘All in all, not the kind of trip a president who has just suffered an electoral rebuff needs,’ he said.”

So the Obama team is going to be more transparent and connect more successfully with the American people? Not so much. “From the administration’s stance on a presidential commission’s controversial recommendations for Social Security and Medicare cuts, to Republican demands that Obama veto any bills containing earmarks, Axelrod offered few specifics on administration plans during interviews on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ and ‘Fox News Sunday.'” So why bother going on? It’s hard to solve the alleged “communication” problem if you don’t have anything to communicate.

Iran wants to negotiate about its nuclear program? Not so much. “They have yet to agree on venue, a length for the talks or even the subject. Iran says it is willing to talk about everything but its uranium enrichment program; the other countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – want to talk mostly about the entire nuclear program.”

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Inflation? What Inflation?

The Gray Lady is much concerned that we do not think that gold has hit a record high under Obama:

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. And you should almost always adjust for inflation. Otherwise, you end up with meaningless records — Gold reaches record high! Oil reaches record high! Lettuce reaches record high! — that depend on the fact that a dollar in 2010 does not have the same value as a dollar did in, say, 1980.

And what precisely happened in 1980? Oh yes, we had an all-time high in the misery index — a combined inflation and unemployment figure of over 21 points. So it’s probably poor form to bring up 1980 as a “worst” case since our policy choices now bear an uncanny resemblance to those that served up record stagflation. Not to fear, says the Times, because “inflation is just 1.1 percent, compared with 2.7 percent when the year began.”

Except there is this:

Strong demand for raw materials from emerging markets and a flood of money promised by the U.S. Federal Reserve are pushing commodities prices to new highs.

The broad rally has gained steam since the Fed indicated in late August it would inject money into the U.S. economy. But the gains also reflect a powerful rebound from the financial crisis in China and other fast-growing markets. These forces may send prices higher still, potentially putting pressure on poor importing nations. …

Commodity prices largely continued a march toward new multi-year records. Copper climbed 2.2% Tuesday and is just pennies from an all-time high. Gold settled at $1,409.80, a new record, and cotton is at its highest in more than 140 years (though neither is near its inflation-adjusted peak). Corn has risen 22% in less than six weeks.

Some of the rise in commodity prices is attributable to increased demand in developing nations. But the Fed is certainly a significant factor. As bond yields go down, investors scramble to buy up commodities:

Investors had a record $320 billion parked in commodities as of September, says Barclays Capital.

Treasury prices, in part, reflect the shift. The price of the 30-year Treasury bond tumbled almost 2% Tuesday, pushing its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, up to 4.25%, the highest since June 3.

The run-up is aided by the U.S. dollar’s sustained fall, which further boosts commodities typically priced in the greenback.

But the New York Times isn’t worried. Because, you see, it’s not actually a record high for gold. Feel better? Didn’t think so.

The Gray Lady is much concerned that we do not think that gold has hit a record high under Obama:

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. And you should almost always adjust for inflation. Otherwise, you end up with meaningless records — Gold reaches record high! Oil reaches record high! Lettuce reaches record high! — that depend on the fact that a dollar in 2010 does not have the same value as a dollar did in, say, 1980.

And what precisely happened in 1980? Oh yes, we had an all-time high in the misery index — a combined inflation and unemployment figure of over 21 points. So it’s probably poor form to bring up 1980 as a “worst” case since our policy choices now bear an uncanny resemblance to those that served up record stagflation. Not to fear, says the Times, because “inflation is just 1.1 percent, compared with 2.7 percent when the year began.”

Except there is this:

Strong demand for raw materials from emerging markets and a flood of money promised by the U.S. Federal Reserve are pushing commodities prices to new highs.

The broad rally has gained steam since the Fed indicated in late August it would inject money into the U.S. economy. But the gains also reflect a powerful rebound from the financial crisis in China and other fast-growing markets. These forces may send prices higher still, potentially putting pressure on poor importing nations. …

Commodity prices largely continued a march toward new multi-year records. Copper climbed 2.2% Tuesday and is just pennies from an all-time high. Gold settled at $1,409.80, a new record, and cotton is at its highest in more than 140 years (though neither is near its inflation-adjusted peak). Corn has risen 22% in less than six weeks.

Some of the rise in commodity prices is attributable to increased demand in developing nations. But the Fed is certainly a significant factor. As bond yields go down, investors scramble to buy up commodities:

Investors had a record $320 billion parked in commodities as of September, says Barclays Capital.

Treasury prices, in part, reflect the shift. The price of the 30-year Treasury bond tumbled almost 2% Tuesday, pushing its yield, which moves in the opposite direction of price, up to 4.25%, the highest since June 3.

The run-up is aided by the U.S. dollar’s sustained fall, which further boosts commodities typically priced in the greenback.

But the New York Times isn’t worried. Because, you see, it’s not actually a record high for gold. Feel better? Didn’t think so.

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Don’t Think of a Tsunami

George Lakoff is a linguistics professor at Berkeley who made a name for himself in left-liberal circles by claiming the problem with left-liberalism was its failure to “reframe” the discussion in a way that would make Americans think well of left-liberalism. His book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, was particularly popular. Today, on Politico, Lakoff diagnoses the primary problem that plagued Democrats on Tuesday as a “massive communications failure” owing to its refusal to understand properly that

[C]onservatives have an extensive, but not obvious communications system, with many think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of spokespeople linked by talking points, and bookers booking their people not just on radio and TV, but in lots of civic venues. This system is active not only in elections, but 24/7/365. Democrats have no comparable system.

This is a perfect summary of a certain way of thinking on the Left that is so insular it must look to reasons other than policy choices to explain away the American people’s frustrating unwillingness to go along mutely with whatever the Left wants. In the Lakoff worldview, liberal ideas can’t get to the people who should want them because conservatives have formed such an impregnable wall. In his worldview, the forces arrayed loosely to promote liberal ideas are as nothing, notwithstanding the fact that they are:  NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the editorial boards and reportorial staffs of most news organizations, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment, the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, the press staffs of nearly 300 Democratic House and Senate members, the White House press office, the Democratic National Committee, the liberal blogsphere, CNN, MSNBC, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund…

There’s more nonsense later in the piece, but I stopped reading after Lakoff “reframed” independent voters as “biconceptuals.”

George Lakoff is a linguistics professor at Berkeley who made a name for himself in left-liberal circles by claiming the problem with left-liberalism was its failure to “reframe” the discussion in a way that would make Americans think well of left-liberalism. His book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, was particularly popular. Today, on Politico, Lakoff diagnoses the primary problem that plagued Democrats on Tuesday as a “massive communications failure” owing to its refusal to understand properly that

[C]onservatives have an extensive, but not obvious communications system, with many think tanks, framing experts, training institutes, a system of spokespeople linked by talking points, and bookers booking their people not just on radio and TV, but in lots of civic venues. This system is active not only in elections, but 24/7/365. Democrats have no comparable system.

This is a perfect summary of a certain way of thinking on the Left that is so insular it must look to reasons other than policy choices to explain away the American people’s frustrating unwillingness to go along mutely with whatever the Left wants. In the Lakoff worldview, liberal ideas can’t get to the people who should want them because conservatives have formed such an impregnable wall. In his worldview, the forces arrayed loosely to promote liberal ideas are as nothing, notwithstanding the fact that they are:  NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the editorial boards and reportorial staffs of most news organizations, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Endowment, the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Center for American Progress, Media Matters for America, the press staffs of nearly 300 Democratic House and Senate members, the White House press office, the Democratic National Committee, the liberal blogsphere, CNN, MSNBC, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund…

There’s more nonsense later in the piece, but I stopped reading after Lakoff “reframed” independent voters as “biconceptuals.”

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Predictions

On Tuesday, Democrats will suffer an epic defeat — worse even than in 1946, when Republicans gained 12 Senate seats and 55 House seats. The GOP will pick up at least 73 House seats, 10 Senate seats, and eight governorships. The GOP’s turnout will be huge and independents will break massively for Republican candidates across the country. Among Democrats, this will trigger despair and bitter recriminations. President Obama will immediately be placed on probation by his own party and may well face a serious primary challenge, just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979.

As Democrats sort through the rubble caused by Tuesday’s landslide — even Wisconsin will become a red state — they will realize what many of us have warned them of for quite some time: Barack Obama and his agenda are having a Kevorkian-like effect on the Democratic Party. If the economy doesn’t noticeably improve by next fall — and, at this stage, there are no signs that it will — more and more Democrats will find it in their self-interest to detach themselves from Obama. And Team Obama’s political strategy this cycle — in which they never settled on a consistent narrative beyond attacking huge swaths of the American people as being ignorant, unappreciative, and tinged with racism — will be judged as one of the most inept in American history.

The next two years will feature stalemate and confrontation between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, is not likely to tack to the center. Mr. Clinton was a New Democrat; Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a man of the left, through and through. The class of 2010 will be less interested in compromise with the president than the class of 1994. And the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will have far less latitude to strike deals than did Newt Gingrich.

In 2011, Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, will emerge as one of the five most important Republicans on Capitol Hill. Marco Rubio will become a GOP superstar. And wise Republicans will promote governors as the face of the Republican Party, reassuring both independents and conservatives who are skeptical about Congressional Republicans and their capacity to govern well.

The danger for Barack Obama is that in the wake of his party’s crushing defeat, he will show little genuine self-reflection. The president, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett may well comfort themselves by telling each other, especially in their private moments, that the public — gripped by fear, irrationality, and a touch of bigotry — was not able to comprehend Obama’s true greatness. Tuesday’s results will be interpreted as a “communications” failure and laid at the feet of a bad economy, which (they will insist) Obama has nothing to do with.

In point of fact, the American people are seeing things for what they are. And if Mr. Obama continues to rationalize his party’s comeuppance by making excuses, blaming others, and lashing out at his “enemies,” the president’s problems — already enormous — will multiply.

Barack Obama’s political world is about to be rocked. We’ll see how he reacts to it.

On Tuesday, Democrats will suffer an epic defeat — worse even than in 1946, when Republicans gained 12 Senate seats and 55 House seats. The GOP will pick up at least 73 House seats, 10 Senate seats, and eight governorships. The GOP’s turnout will be huge and independents will break massively for Republican candidates across the country. Among Democrats, this will trigger despair and bitter recriminations. President Obama will immediately be placed on probation by his own party and may well face a serious primary challenge, just as Jimmy Carter did in 1979.

As Democrats sort through the rubble caused by Tuesday’s landslide — even Wisconsin will become a red state — they will realize what many of us have warned them of for quite some time: Barack Obama and his agenda are having a Kevorkian-like effect on the Democratic Party. If the economy doesn’t noticeably improve by next fall — and, at this stage, there are no signs that it will — more and more Democrats will find it in their self-interest to detach themselves from Obama. And Team Obama’s political strategy this cycle — in which they never settled on a consistent narrative beyond attacking huge swaths of the American people as being ignorant, unappreciative, and tinged with racism — will be judged as one of the most inept in American history.

The next two years will feature stalemate and confrontation between Capitol Hill and the White House. President Obama, unlike Bill Clinton, is not likely to tack to the center. Mr. Clinton was a New Democrat; Mr. Obama has shown himself to be a man of the left, through and through. The class of 2010 will be less interested in compromise with the president than the class of 1994. And the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, will have far less latitude to strike deals than did Newt Gingrich.

In 2011, Paul Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, will emerge as one of the five most important Republicans on Capitol Hill. Marco Rubio will become a GOP superstar. And wise Republicans will promote governors as the face of the Republican Party, reassuring both independents and conservatives who are skeptical about Congressional Republicans and their capacity to govern well.

The danger for Barack Obama is that in the wake of his party’s crushing defeat, he will show little genuine self-reflection. The president, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett may well comfort themselves by telling each other, especially in their private moments, that the public — gripped by fear, irrationality, and a touch of bigotry — was not able to comprehend Obama’s true greatness. Tuesday’s results will be interpreted as a “communications” failure and laid at the feet of a bad economy, which (they will insist) Obama has nothing to do with.

In point of fact, the American people are seeing things for what they are. And if Mr. Obama continues to rationalize his party’s comeuppance by making excuses, blaming others, and lashing out at his “enemies,” the president’s problems — already enormous — will multiply.

Barack Obama’s political world is about to be rocked. We’ll see how he reacts to it.

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The End of Obama’s Non-Peace-Talk Charade

No surprise here:

In perhaps the shortest round of peace negotiations in the history of their conflict, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have ground to a halt and show little sign of resuming.

But this explanation has to make one smile:

Pressure to restart the talks eased after the Arab League said it would wait a month — until Nov. 8 — before ending Abbas’s mandate for negotiations, thus pushing the issue beyond the U.S. midterm elections. But if Republicans score big gains, some Israelis argue, that could limit Obama’s ability to pressure Israel to make concessions.

Because, for all the whining about making Israel a partisan issue, there is no doubt that support for Israel and opposition to Obama’s pitched assault on it are strongest on the Republican side of the aisle.

The extent of the administration’s naivete and incompetence is something to behold (my comments in brackets):

The Obama administration, worried that the impending end of the settlement freeze would leave a potentially dangerous vacuum, rushed forward with talks without a plan for dealing with the end of the moratorium, analysts say. The hope was that sheer momentum would carry the talks forward. [What momentum?]

That decision has come with costs, including some to Obama’s credibility. [Some? It does rather shatter it, no?] The president invested his personal prestige in launching the talks, and even appealed to Israel to extend the freeze during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly. [Because he imagined that the sheer swellness of himself, coupled with threats, could achieve what the Israelis plainly said was unacceptable?]

The Palestinians, taking their cue from previous administration statements, have made a settlement freeze a key requirement for continued talks, so any reversal in that stance would make them appear weak. Netanyahu, concerned about the impact an extension of the freeze would have on his right-leaning coalition, has put new demands on the table, such as upfront Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. [In other words, he screwed up the whole thing.]

Having demonstrated that the U.S. is such a feckless friend of Israel and an unreliable interlocutor for the PA, Obama now faces the prospect that his beloved multilateral institution will try to dismember the Jewish state:

“We are going to go to Washington to recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the U.N. Security Council and will ask Washington not to veto,” [PA negotiator Muhammad] Shatayeh said. If Washington vetoes, he said, then the Palestinians will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly.

Does the UN General Assembly have such power? Two foreign policy experts tell me that the involvement of the UN General Assembly is not unprecedented in such matters. The General Assembly was responsible for the 1947 partition. More recently, as they gurus explained, “after Kosovo declared its independence, Serbia asked the U.N. General Assembly to intervene and U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion, which it did.”

General Assembly resolutions are not, strictly speaking, binding. But legality is not the issue; this is a thugocracy, after all, which has been empowered and elevated by none other than Barack Obama. It is hard to believe that a single administration in just two years could have made such hash out of Middle East policy.

No surprise here:

In perhaps the shortest round of peace negotiations in the history of their conflict, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have ground to a halt and show little sign of resuming.

But this explanation has to make one smile:

Pressure to restart the talks eased after the Arab League said it would wait a month — until Nov. 8 — before ending Abbas’s mandate for negotiations, thus pushing the issue beyond the U.S. midterm elections. But if Republicans score big gains, some Israelis argue, that could limit Obama’s ability to pressure Israel to make concessions.

Because, for all the whining about making Israel a partisan issue, there is no doubt that support for Israel and opposition to Obama’s pitched assault on it are strongest on the Republican side of the aisle.

The extent of the administration’s naivete and incompetence is something to behold (my comments in brackets):

The Obama administration, worried that the impending end of the settlement freeze would leave a potentially dangerous vacuum, rushed forward with talks without a plan for dealing with the end of the moratorium, analysts say. The hope was that sheer momentum would carry the talks forward. [What momentum?]

That decision has come with costs, including some to Obama’s credibility. [Some? It does rather shatter it, no?] The president invested his personal prestige in launching the talks, and even appealed to Israel to extend the freeze during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly. [Because he imagined that the sheer swellness of himself, coupled with threats, could achieve what the Israelis plainly said was unacceptable?]

The Palestinians, taking their cue from previous administration statements, have made a settlement freeze a key requirement for continued talks, so any reversal in that stance would make them appear weak. Netanyahu, concerned about the impact an extension of the freeze would have on his right-leaning coalition, has put new demands on the table, such as upfront Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. [In other words, he screwed up the whole thing.]

Having demonstrated that the U.S. is such a feckless friend of Israel and an unreliable interlocutor for the PA, Obama now faces the prospect that his beloved multilateral institution will try to dismember the Jewish state:

“We are going to go to Washington to recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the U.N. Security Council and will ask Washington not to veto,” [PA negotiator Muhammad] Shatayeh said. If Washington vetoes, he said, then the Palestinians will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly.

Does the UN General Assembly have such power? Two foreign policy experts tell me that the involvement of the UN General Assembly is not unprecedented in such matters. The General Assembly was responsible for the 1947 partition. More recently, as they gurus explained, “after Kosovo declared its independence, Serbia asked the U.N. General Assembly to intervene and U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion, which it did.”

General Assembly resolutions are not, strictly speaking, binding. But legality is not the issue; this is a thugocracy, after all, which has been empowered and elevated by none other than Barack Obama. It is hard to believe that a single administration in just two years could have made such hash out of Middle East policy.

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Extending the Settlement Freeze Would Undermine a Vital Israeli Security Interest

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

Thomas Friedman argues in today’s New York Times that Israel should extend its freeze on settlement construction because when a key ally like America “asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security … there is only one right answer: ‘Yes.’” Friedman is, of course, correct that countries should help allies anytime they can do so without great cost to themselves. Where he’s wrong is in saying that no vital Israeli security interest is at stake.

It’s true that Israel has no real security interest in a few more houses here or there. But it does have a vital security interest in ultimately securing defensible borders, which can’t be done without retaining some territory on the other side of the Green Line under any deal. And continuing the settlement freeze would undermine Israel’s negotiating position on this issue.

Israel’s need for defensible borders was first recognized in UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is still considered the basis for resolving the conflict: this resolution deliberately demanded an Israeli withdrawal “from territories” captured in 1967 rather than from “all the territories,” as the Arabs had wanted, to enable Israel to retain some of this land.

As Lord Caradon, the British UN ambassador who drafted it, later said, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” Similarly, America’s then-ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, said the resolution’s goal was to secure “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces … inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Many settlements were subsequently built for precisely this purpose: to thicken Israel’s narrow pre-1967 waist and create a buffer around its major population center (the greater Tel Aviv area), its capital (Jerusalem), and its only international airport (Ben-Gurion).

Israel’s experience with previous withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza — which, as Friedman admitted, gained it nothing but rocket fire in return — has only made this more important. Even with the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system, a territorial buffer is essential to protect these vital areas from short-range rockets: not only can the system not stop weapons launched from less than 4.5 kilometers away, but it’s economically prohibitive against anything beyond very occasional fire.

Thus Israel has a valid security-based claim to these areas, and a onetime, temporary building moratorium as a goodwill gesture to promote peace, like the one Israel instituted last November, doesn’t undermine it. But extending the freeze would, because that implies the moratorium isn’t a onetime goodwill gesture on Israel’s part, but — as most of the world indeed claims — a necessary condition for progress, since this land a priori belongs to the Palestinians, and Israel has no right to it.

Israel can’t stop other countries from rejecting its claim to this land. But for Jerusalem to itself denigrate this claim by extending the freeze would undermine its negotiating position on a vital security issue: defensible borders. And that is something no country with any vestige of a survival instinct should agree to do.

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Thomas Friedman’s Additional Test

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

Thomas Friedman unloads on Israel, asserting that it is “behaving like a spoiled child” because Netanyahu will not agree to a new settlement-construction moratorium without additional assurances:

Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

I think he means that just two times he would like Israel to say it.

Last year, Obama demanded a settlement freeze — after reneging on agreements about such a freeze that had governed the peace process for the prior six years and refusing to endorse the presidential letter given to Israel in exchange for the dismantlement of every settlement in Gaza. The proposed deal was a construction freeze in exchange for small steps toward normalization with Israel that the U.S. would obtain from Arab states. Obama failed to get anything from the Arab states, but Israel announced a 10-month moratorium anyway. It had no impact at all.

Friedman writes that he has “no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel” but thinks Abbas should be tested with another moratorium. No idea?

He knows that Abbas’s term of office expired nearly two years ago and that Abbas is “President Abbas” only in the sense that George Mitchell is “Senator Mitchell.” He knows Abbas declined an offer of a state on 100 percent of the West Bank (after land swaps) with a shared Jerusalem. He knows Abbas has stated he will “never” recognize Israel as a Jewish state nor negotiate any land swap. He knows Abbas cannot make peace even with Hamas, which controls half the putative Palestinian state. He knows Abbas has repeatedly canceled elections and that the idea of the Palestinian Authority as a stable democratic entity is a joke. He knows Abbas has declared he will never waive the “right of return,” which makes a peace agreement impossible even if every other issue could be resolved. He knows Abbas has taken no steps to prepare his public for any of the compromises that would be necessary for a peace agreement. How many tests does Abbas have to fail before Thomas Friedman has an idea?

Would it be too much to ask that Abbas first give his Bir Zeit speech? Or that Obama commit to veto any Palestinian state that does not result from direct negotiations that provide Israel with defensible borders? Or would that be acting like a spoiled child?

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Flotsam and Jetsam

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

I’m sure it is going to be blamed on the Chamber of Commerce: “Gallup finds 21% of Americans satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time. If that figure does not improve considerably in the next two weeks, it would be the lowest level of U.S. satisfaction Gallup has measured at the time of a midterm election in more than 30 years of tracking this measure.”

If Jimmy Carter is talking about Israel, it’s going to be slanderous: “Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday that Palestinians are ‘living in a cage’ in Gaza and that the militant group Hamas must be included in all major efforts for peace.” Oh, and Obama’s Medal of Freedom winner Mary Robinson was along for the trip.

Now that the PA has bugged out of direct non-peace talks, Israeli leaders are right to be concerned that the next step is going to be an attempt to impose a peace deal. Ambassador Michael Oren is having none of it: “Like Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu will not allow the United Nations, or any other organization, to dictate our borders. They will be determined through negotiations.”

If he’s not taking responsibility for the economy or his party’s train wreck now, there’s no way he’s going to be sticking around to explain the election results: “President Obama is giving Republicans a 10-day window to set the agenda for a lame-duck session and the new legislative year by leaving the country right after the midterm elections.” In short, run away!

Jack Conway is going to be the winner of one contest, according to Jason Zengerle: “There are still two weeks left until the midterm elections, but it’s not too early to declare a winner in the contest for the most despicable political ad of this campaign season. … When the debate was over, Paul refused to shake Conway’s hand. Frankly, I don’t blame him. First, no candidate over the age of, say, 30 should be held politically accountable for anything he or she did in college—short of gross academic misconduct or committing a felony. Second, and more importantly, a politician’s religious faith should simply be off-limits.”

Matt Continetti explains that it’s not going to be easy for Sarah Palin to get the GOP nod: “Palin needs to run a campaign in which she demonstrates the ability to stay on message, raise significant sums of money from a broad group of donors, demonstrate familiarity with the intricacies of domestic and foreign policy, and present a unifying theme of American strength, at home and abroad. It’s a tall order, I know. But the next Republican president will do all these things.” At least she’ll have the argument that an Ivy League degree is irrelevant to the presidency.

It’s going to be a long two years: “[T]he Obama administration is still absorbing the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has to date rejected a proposed American compromise package that would have offered various security and other assurances to Israel in exchange for a 60-day renewal of a partial West Bank settlement freeze that expired last month. The American team is said to be frustrated and upset at Netanyahu’s dismissal to date of the package, which was drafted by the NSC’s Dennis Ross in close consultation with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molho.” They didn’t see this coming? Now that is scary.

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The Least-Smart Diplomat of Them All

Jackson Diehl is the latest Middle East watcher to figure out what went wrong with the non-direct, non-peace talks:

For 15 years and more, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted peace talks with Israel in the absence of a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Now, it appears as likely as not that his newborn negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — and their goal of agreement on a Palestinian state within a year — will expire because of Abbas’s refusal to talk in the absence of such a freeze. …

So why does Abbas stubbornly persist in his self-defeating position? In an interview with Israeli television Sunday night, he offered a remarkably candid explanation: “When Obama came to power, he is the one who announced that settlement activity must be stopped,” he said. “If America says it and Europe says it and the whole world says it, you want me not to say it?”

Well, yes. Just as many conservative critics have been saying — the immediate problem is a self-created one (“the settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas, but with Obama — who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote”). The longer-term problem is that the PA is not ready and able to make an enforceable peace agreement that recognizes the Jewish state. That, too, Abbas has candidly admitted.

You say, but doesn’t Dennis Ross or George Mitchell or Hillary Clinton know better? Maybe not. But even if they do, Obama is running the show, and he plainly doesn’t. Obama and his political hacks David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel may have figured they could topple the Bibi government. But when that didn’t occur, what was the rationale for reintroducing the issue in September? The most generous explanation is that Obama is a novice and unteachable when it comes to the Middle East. A cynic would say that Obama knows very well that the PA can’t make a deal and would rather put the screws on Israel than figure out a way to keep the talks going.

Either way, Obama’s team has achieved some domestic bipartisan consensus here in the U.S.: his administration screwed this up, the PA is intransigent, and it is high time we stopped blaming Israel. For that, I suppose, we can be grateful.

Jackson Diehl is the latest Middle East watcher to figure out what went wrong with the non-direct, non-peace talks:

For 15 years and more, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conducted peace talks with Israel in the absence of a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Now, it appears as likely as not that his newborn negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — and their goal of agreement on a Palestinian state within a year — will expire because of Abbas’s refusal to talk in the absence of such a freeze. …

So why does Abbas stubbornly persist in his self-defeating position? In an interview with Israeli television Sunday night, he offered a remarkably candid explanation: “When Obama came to power, he is the one who announced that settlement activity must be stopped,” he said. “If America says it and Europe says it and the whole world says it, you want me not to say it?”

Well, yes. Just as many conservative critics have been saying — the immediate problem is a self-created one (“the settlement impasse originated not with Netanyahu or Abbas, but with Obama — who by insisting on an Israeli freeze has created a near-insuperable obstacle to the peace process he is trying to promote”). The longer-term problem is that the PA is not ready and able to make an enforceable peace agreement that recognizes the Jewish state. That, too, Abbas has candidly admitted.

You say, but doesn’t Dennis Ross or George Mitchell or Hillary Clinton know better? Maybe not. But even if they do, Obama is running the show, and he plainly doesn’t. Obama and his political hacks David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel may have figured they could topple the Bibi government. But when that didn’t occur, what was the rationale for reintroducing the issue in September? The most generous explanation is that Obama is a novice and unteachable when it comes to the Middle East. A cynic would say that Obama knows very well that the PA can’t make a deal and would rather put the screws on Israel than figure out a way to keep the talks going.

Either way, Obama’s team has achieved some domestic bipartisan consensus here in the U.S.: his administration screwed this up, the PA is intransigent, and it is high time we stopped blaming Israel. For that, I suppose, we can be grateful.

Read Less




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